Integration strategy


Thread Starter

Michael Brown

In planning the future direction of my integration business, I have to ask a question. I thought this would be a good question to pose to the group.. If given the choice - Is it better to be diversified and be decent with a lot of platforms; OR Choose only a specific/strategic platform and strive to be the absolute best - thusly turning down work that does not comply with the direction of choice? Input? Michael Brown Advanced Solutions Group


Bob Peterson

You won't have much choice. You will find that for the most part your customers will determine what products you use. If you cannot or will not use what they want you will not get much business. besides, there is little difference in functionality between the major PLC brands. Different dialects, different comm protocols, different I/O cards and structures, but not so different that you won't be able to adapt.
You should probably ask this question of existing customers and potential ones. But for my money: I wouldn't go so far as to choose a single platform. Maybe 2 or 3. Then at least you have a chance to have a tool that fits the job. If all your work is typical done within a single industry and a narrow band of applications, maybe being a one-trick pony could work.

Michael Griffin

Instead of worrying too much about the hardware, it might be better to be the best at certain types of applications or industries. If by "platform" you mean brand of PLC, most of them are not really all that different from each other once you've learned a few. You should be able to concentrate on what you want to do, rather than letting the hardware get in the way of your ideas. If you aren't sure what cable goes with what obscure module for every brand of PLC - well, that is what manufacturer's reps are for. What is more valuable is to be an expert at things like motion control, robot integration, high speed assembly, operator interfaces, documentation, instrumentation, etc. This is the sort of expertise which customers want to buy. I don't want an expert on AB or Omron PLCs, I want someone who can make my machine run and provide all the features I need for set-up and maintenance. Where generalisation can get difficult is the cost of programming software. This though is strictly a business decision - i.e. does the value of the projects available make buying the software worth while. Fortunately, some of the less common PLCs seem to have the cheaper software. There doesn't seem to be a lot of correlation between price and quality in this area. ********************** Michael Griffin London, Ont. Canada [email protected] **********************

Leese, David

I don't make a living as an integrator, but I would suggest that you focus on one or two industries so that you learn to think like your customers and empathize with their problems. This will probably lead you toward knowing only a few platforms. I have a college friend that runs a software business. He's done some great work for his customers, but he chose to accept customers in many diverse markets. As a result, he struggles to adapt his knowledge and code from project to another, and he doesn't have a strong enough presence in any one market to benefit from word-of-mouth advertising. The world is full of brilliant IT minds and software engineers and integrators. It's unfortunate that most don't really know the business for which they code.

Roderick K. Duet

In regards to MMIs this can be a hard decision SCADA Computer, Touch Screens etc. At this point I will negate any path presented to me if the customer understands that he will be paying for the alternative. Roderick K. Duet tel;fax:770-461-0278 tel;work:1-800-628-7813

Anthony Kerstens

An integrator turn down work??? Only if he doesn't have enough resources to do the job. And even then he might take on the job. Don't limit yourself. Anthony Kerstens P.Eng.

Johan Bengtsson

Well, if I would have to choose I would go for the first one, but I suppose I am a person liking more general knowlege over more specialized anyway (and better at learning in that way). I think however both types are needed. /Johan Bengtsson ---------------------------------------- P&L, Innovation in training Box 252, S-281 23 H{ssleholm SWEDEN Tel: +46 451 49 460, Fax: +46 451 89 833 E-mail: [email protected] Internet: ----------------------------------------
I try to focus on motion and drive systems in my integration efforts. This will hopefully allow me to become an expert in those areas. I might turn down a pure PLC project, especially if it had any undesirable qualities. I would certainly turn down a process control project. I would take off topic work if the customer seems nice to work with, or if it came from a regular customer. I do turn down service work, unless I really need cash. I am pretty good at MMI work, although I do not pursue it at all. In short, I think it is important to specialize in a particular area. Bill Sturm
That's correct. We haven't a lot of choice on selecting the products. Although some people say the price and quality is not correlated on this control system market, a majority of customers prefer to use the renowned PLC brands much more, they don't want to take any risk by using the less common PLC especially on the sizable projects. Also, in addition to a lot of the competitors as well as the gobal market and demands is sinking, we are difficulties to focus on one or two applications.
whoa there Anthony . . . . taking on more work than you can handle is a sure way to risk doing a lousy job on the projects you have in house, burn out your best staff and tick off your core customers . . . Having grown about 30% / year for the last 5 years without taking on more work than we could handle . . . and seeing other integrators get in over their heads and choke and die . . . . I would think twice about that strategy. Ken Brown Applied Motion Systems, Inc.

Grassel, Jay E.

As an alternate viewpoint - why be middle-of-the-pack if you can be a recognized expert? Trouble is - you have to choose the narrow field wisely. Jay Jay E. Grassel ..... 724-745-8400, ext. 102 DATA SCIENCE AUTOMATION, INC. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Kansas City

Steven E. Braun

> > The SLC may be somewhat expensive, but it is my PLC of choice, as long as > > I am not paying for it. It is fast, very reliable, and easy to use. > > Can anyone recommend a PLC with an overall better design than a SLC 500? > > > > Bill Sturm > > >Subject: OTHER: Integration strategy > >In planning the future direction of my integration business, I have to ask a >question. I thought this would be a good question to pose to the group.. >If given the choice - Is it better to be diversified and be decent with a >lot of platforms; >OR >Choose only a specific/strategic platform and strive to be the absolute >best - thusly turning down work that does not comply with the direction of >choice? >Michael Brown In my mind, these two questions are somewhat related. As to the latter question: Many years ago, it was entirely possible to be a small systems integrator and be proficient with almost all brands of PLC systems. In fact, we integrators all bragged about it. This is really difficult to do anymore. Being a good integrator these days requires buying into the vendor's "philosophy" The reasons are numerous however here are a few : - The PLC's themselves are much more complex and capable and as a result the learning curve is steep and doesn't quit anymore. Technology changes very quickly these days and the vendors do not always present a cohesive choice in their product offerings. They all have quirks. - The task of keeping the programming/configuration software current has become not only onerous but the price has become absolutely criminal. Despite the best intentions of the PLC vendors, the current Windows based software present many challenges to the simple task of programming the PLC if you have to juggle numerous platforms. - The price margins are not there anymore for the major PLC vendors. As a result the sales forces tend to focus on the "loyal" integrators. Despite the best intentions of the small integrator, the vendors will quickly identify an integrator as an "AB" house or a "Modicon guy" or so. To further complicate the situation, PLC vendors have "hot spots" in their nationwide coverage. A PLC vendor may not do well in certain areas of the country. I have had many, many comments from clients who have said that "so-and-so doesn't sell around here" or "we don't buy from them". - Integrators are at the mercy of the client these days. Most companies have some sort of PLC recommendation and an installed base. I had one client who will only accept the PLC-5 series from AB and I currently have another who only accepts the 90-70 from GE. It is overkill and expensive in both cases but that's their corporate standard. I just could not do justice to both. - My company will not perform services for a client on a given platform unless we have that type of equipment in house. It is far too expensive to try and learn hardware and debug code in the field. It has become very difficult to beg, borrow, or steal the gear and I certainly can not afford to buy gear from vendors given the array of models and the short window before obsolescence or upgrades. From my perspective as a small integrator, there was much to be gained from aligning myself with one of the major PLC vendors. It doesn't take much work to bury a small integrator. We were able to develop and sustain a good working relationship with local sales, the local AE, the factory support people, the factory web site, the local and not so local users, and whoever else involved with that brand (like 3rd party people). We got past the hurdles and got comfortable with the routine. I just could not imagine trying to spend that much time with another vendor. Of course I should add that over the years I have changed vendors a few times and that brings me to the former question. >Can anyone recommend a PLC with an overall better design than a SLC 500? Why yes! I believe that the GE 90-30 is a much better design, far easier to program, and it's cheaper. Of course, 5 or 6 years ago I thought that the S5-95U from Siemens was a killer and the Best-That-Ever-Existed. 3 years ago, we got onto a real roll with the Modicon Quantum. I'm beginning to think that maybe I should check out PLC Direct because you can buy into this stuff dirt cheap, software and all. Would not take long to be really good at it either which of course brings me to my point. GE 90-30 hardware and software is so simple for us because that's what we do. In fact if I really think about this, I just can not imagine why everyone doesn't see how really functional and cost effective and cool this PLC really is :) Of course that's just my opinion......... I turn down AB SLC jobs because I do not want to buy the software and learn it (this is dead time for me), I do not want to buy a SLC for my office (no room and no money), I do not want to have to start over with a new AB AE and sales guys (no tolerance and more dead time), I do not want to load up on all the manuals, CD's, and whatever else and mostly I do not want to have to deal with AB (probably mutual). Also, in my area, ALL integrators are AB! They don't need another. Just a Blinkered Integrator Looking for A Break Steven E. Braun [email protected] Bellingham, WA.

Ramer-1, Carl

Michael: I can only invoke a quote which expresses my opinion exactly: "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects". Robert A. Heinlein from The Notebooks of Lazarus Long. If the above sounds like your future job description, take heed. Carl Ramer Controls & Protective Systems Design Space Gateway Support, Inc. Kennedy Space Center, Florida Unsponsored personal reply
Many of the responses to this query have been in the direction of "Get to know the industry, the hardware platforms are similar anyways" True, but most project budgets I have seen allow for NO learning curve. It would take a better salesman that I to get a client to pay for my attendance at a vendor training course. As soon as you crack a manual, you're over on hours. If you skimp on learning the platform, you will pay even more dearly. So, of course you will be most competitive with what you already know. I confess to being more of a generalist, but I've worked with individuals who have specialized in only one platform. Their productivity went well beyond any other "can do anything" integrator I've personally encountered. That said, the biggest challenge for any integrator is to keep integrating. When things are a bit slack, you will likely find yourself saying "yes, I can do that", whatever you decide at the onset. This is not a tidy business. Ron Sewell Sigmatic Controls Kelowna, B.C.
Surely by concentrating almost exclusively on one platform, the 'integration' part becomes almost non-existent? Tying pieces of similar equipment together, most likely from a single supplier sounds relatively easy (and boring)?! I hope I don't start a verbal tirade now where everyone relates horror stories of trying to integrate pieces of Siemens S5 stuff.... Russ Bilbey
Hi All Steve, you have outlined many of the problems that small integrators have to deal with. You didn't touch on the interoperability stuff that makes my life so exciting but you hit most of the rest. A question: Would the philosophy and stated goals of the LPLC make a major improvement in this? Regards cww

David Bergeron

This thread brings up another interesting point. Some integrators work in any industry while others specialize in a particular industry. Which is better? I've always been of the opinion that it's better not to limit your market to one industry. However, you then end of having to compete with other integrators that specialize in that one industry you are trying to get a project in. David Bergeron, P.E.
There is a big difference between dealing with a "one man band" type of shop and a real system integrator company. There is a level of expertise in even a small integrator a dozen engineers, each with 10-20 years of experience that just can't be matched by one guy who is also chief salesman, bottle washer and janitor (not to denigrate any of these important jobs). The one man shop just can't deal with the overhead of supporting multiple product lines, in some cases even multiple PLCs of the same vendor. The one man band approach works well for a focused effort in a narrow niche, but falls apart once a wider scope is needed. Thats where the 'real" system integrators can really shine, with engineers who can jump right in.

Diana Bouchard

The trouble with focussing on *one and only one* industry is that when that industry is in a down cycle, you can have some real lean times. As an example, the Canadian pulp and paper industry recently came out of a few real down years when the only game in town was environmental projects mandated by government regulations, and people were scrambling hard to get them. For this reason, most consultants/integrators I know try to be adequately competent with 2-4 industries rather than sticking to one only. Diana Bouchard ******************************************************************** Diana C. Bouchard Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada (Paprican) Process Control Group 570 St Johns Boulevard Pointe Claire Quebec H9R 3J9 Canada phone: (514) 630 4100 x2376 fax: (514) 630 4120 email: [email protected] *******************************************************************